Family Plot (1976 review)

I still seem to be in a minority in preferring Family Plot to Alfred Hitchcock’s other late films, but after reseeing the film a few nights ago for the umpteenth time, I’m not about to change my opinion. It would appear that some of Hitchcock’s biggest champions, such as Robin Wood, tend to dismiss the film because it isn’t sicker. I tried to respond to their criticism at least provisionally in the opening of this review, written  for the summer 1976 Sight and Sound, which they ran as their cover story for that issue and which I’ve now revised, but only minimally. — J.R.

Family Plot

“Everything’s perverted in a different way,” Hitchcock has noted; and perhaps no other filmmaker has illustrated this postulate better, by starting from precisely the opposite premise. Without a well-established sense of the normal, the abnormal doesn’t even stand a chance of being recognized, and the director has always made it his business to offer all the right signposts and comforts to guarantee complacency before proceeding to unhinge it. Yet one of the rules of the game is deception, and if the Master’s artistry has been identified more with rude shocks than with the subtler conditioning which makes them possible, one can be certain that this too plays a role in his overall strategies.… Read more »

Familiarity Breeds Contempt [SCOOP]

From the Chicago Reader (July 28, 2006). — J.R.

Scoop

* (Has redeeming facet)

Directed and written by Woody Allen

With Scarlett Johansson, Allen, Ian McShane, Hugh Jackman, Fenella Woolgar, and Julian Glover

Unlike some of his more commercial contemporaries — including Harvey Weinstein pets Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino — Woody Allen has always had the final cut on his movies. But then what are the corporate honchos risking with this indulgence? They know familiarity is one of many things that draw us to movies, and they know with Allen not to expect any surprises. Unfortunately the industry often behaves as if familiarity were the only attraction.

Match Point, Allen’s best movie to date, was criticized in some quarters because it transplanted many of his concerns from New York to London and because it had an uncharacteristic seriousness and precision. Scoop, its lame successor, is also set in London and also costars Scarlett Johansson as another American greenhorn (a journalism student instead of an aspiring actress) who becomes involved with another wealthy Englishman who has a country estate. And once again there’s the plotting of the murder of a girlfriend that calls to mind Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy.… Read more »

Sexual Healing [ROMANCE]

From the Chicago Reader (November 12, 1999). — J.R.

Romance

Rating *** A must see

Directed and written by Catherine Breillat

With Caroline Ducey, Sagamore Stevenin, Rocco Siffredi, and Francois Berleand.


I’ve never put much stock in my powers of prophecy, but it seems I was more off the mark than usual nine months ago when I emerged from the world premiere of Catherine Breillat’s Romance, in Rotterdam, thinking it would create a sensation if it reached the U.S. I somehow forgot that most movie sensations are the fabrications of publicists. Audiences can create sensations – The Blair Witch Project proves that — but reviewers, who are usually closer to publicists than to audiences, are often the last people to notice. So maybe Breillat’s seventh feature did cause a sensation with audiences when it opened in New York several weeks ago, but if so, I don’t think it’s been reported.

Nine months ago I decided that Romance was a pretty reactionary movie for France — mainly because of an offscreen statement made by the heroine near the end (“They say a woman isn’t a woman until she’s a mother; it’s true”). But I still thought it might be seen as progressive in America, especially because its rare confluence of cinematic taste, literary intelligence, and hard-core sex might undercut the crippling puritanism of our movie codes, which usually equate eroticism with porn, sleaze, and stupidity rather than, say, art, health, and intelligence.… Read more »

My Filmgoing in 1968: An Exploration

This essay was written for That Magic Moment: 1968 Und Das Kino Eine Filmschau, a film program and publication organized by the Viennale and Stadtkino in late May and early June, 1998. Like some of the other pieces reproduced on this site as featured texts, this has various passages that have been recycled elsewhere in my work — in this case, both in the Chicago Reader and in my book Movie Wars – but it still seems worth reprinting, chiefly for its personal reflections on film history and, more generally, the 60s. — J.R.

My Filmgoing in 1968: An Exploration

by Jonathan Rosenbaum

In 1968, the year I turned 25, I bought my first appointment book — or at least the first appointment book that I’ve bothered to save, and I’ve saved all 30 of the appointment books that I’ve bought and filled since then. For the most part, I use these appointment books to list appointments of various kinds: meetings with friends, planned trips to other cities and countries, classes I plan to teach or lectures I plan to attend or deliver. But most of the entries concern films I plan to see and when or where they’re playing.… Read more »

The Mosaic Approach

Posted in (or on) Moving Image Source on August 18, 2010. — J.R.

“Having provided over 30 audio commentaries for DVD releases,” Australian film critic Adrian Martin wrote recently in his column for the Dutch film magazine Filmkrant, “I feel I have earned the right to criticize the format. These voice-over commentaries provided by filmmakers, critics and historians are decidedly a mixed blessing. I sometimes wonder whether anybody, except the most dedicated and/or masochistic researcher, ever listens to them all the way through. No one can doubt that these voice-tracks sometimes give us splendid insight or information that we cannot obtain elsewhere in print. But are they really the best we can do in the quest to marry film criticism with the film-object itself?”

Martin is hardly alone in articulating this position. Many of my friends who collect DVDs, maybe even most of them, avow that they tend to skip audio commentaries entirely, and it’s difficult not to share their bias In most of these run-on spiels, the remarks rarely coincide with what one is seeing (or hearing), and one often feels that the commentator, whether it’s a critic or a participant in the filmmaking, is simply taking the easy way out — doing a free-form improv rather than bothering to write a carefully considered text.… Read more »

On Patrick McGilligan’s YOUNG ORSON

Written for my “En movimiento” column in Caimán Cuadernos de Cine in July 2015. — J.R.

YoungOrson

En movimiento: Young Orson

 

Jonathan Rosenbaum

 

 

Out of all the discoveries that have come my way in the wake of the Welles centennial, the most interesting and exciting so far has been Patrick McGilligan’s Young Orson: The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane, a biography that comes to 785 pages, at least in the bound uncorrected proofs sent to me by HarperCollins in mid-July.  (The official publication date is November 17.) As I wrote in a blurb solicited by the publisher, “In many ways, Patrick McGilligan’s Young Orson is my favorite of all the Welles biographies to date. Not only because he’s read all the others, and makes judicious calls about how far we should trust them, but because his own prodigious research has turned up so much rich, fresh, and clarifying material. The overall portrait of Welles’s character and background that emerges, uncharacteristically sympathetic, is both dense and persuasive — and a page-turning pleasure to read.” I’m especially impressed by how much McGilligan has turned up about Welles’s parents, his guardian, and his childhood in general.… Read more »

Fresh Clues to an Old Mystery [THE BIG SLEEP]

From the Chicago Reader, June 20, 1997. — J.R.

Lauren Bacall

The Big Sleep

Rating **** Masterpiece

Directed by Howard Hawks

Written by William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman

With Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Ridgely, Martha Vickers, Dorothy Malone, Pat Clark, Regis Toomey, Charles Waldron, Sonia Darrin, and Elisha Cook Jr.

For all its reputation as a classic, and despite the greatness of Howard Hawks as a filmmaker, The Big Sleep has never quite belonged in the front rank of his work — at least not to the same degree as Scarface, Twentieth Century, Only Angels Have Wings, To Have and Have Not, Red River, The Big Sky, Monkey Business, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and Rio Bravo, to cite my own list of favorites. Unlike To Have and Have Not (1944) — Hawks’s previous collaboration with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, writers Jules Furthman and William Faulkner, cinematographer Sid Hickox, and composer Max Steiner — it qualifies as neither a personal manifesto on social and sexual behavior nor an abstract meditation on jivey style and braggadocio set within a confined space, though it periodically reminds one that exercises of this kind are what Hawks did best.… Read more »

My Dozen Favorite Non-Region-1 Box Sets

From DVD Beaver (posted June 2008). Some of these listings may be out of date — and in the case of Godard’s Histoire(s), superseded by subsequent American and/or Blu-Ray editions. –  J.R.

Coming up with my favorite box sets from abroad is a far cry from compiling a list of my favorite films on DVD, foreign or otherwise, even if some of my favorite films are represented here. The problem is, as Mick Jagger puts it, you can’t always get what you want. To start with an extreme example, my favorite Hou Hsiao-hsien film is most likely The Puppetmaster (1993), but my least favorite of all the DVDs of Hou films in my collection happens to be the Winstar edition of that film. It’s so substandard —- not even letterboxed, and packaged so clumsily — that I’m embarrassed to find myself quoted on the back of the box, especially with the quotation mangled into tortured grammar.

I’ve aimed for a certain geographical spread as well as some generic balance: popular comedies, art films, experimental films, and one serial; DVDs from Belgium, France, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom. Admittedly, roughly half of my selections come from France, and a quarter of them, to my surprise, comes from a single label, Gaumont —- maybe because this blockbuster company seems to specialize in blockbuster box sets.Read more »

Creative Overload [on PIERROT LE FOU]

From the June 9, 1989 Chicago Reader. –J.R.

PIERROT LE FOU

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed and written by Jean-Luc Godard

With Jean-Paul Belmondo, Anna Karina, Dirk Sanders, Raymond Devos, Graziella Galvani, Roger Dutoit, Hans Meyer, Jimmy Karoubi, and Samuel Fuller.

All the good movies have been made. — Peter Bogdanovich to Boris Karloff in Bogdanovich’s Targets (1968)

Two or three years ago I felt that everything had been done, that there was nothing left to do today. . . . Ivan the Terrible had been made, and Our Daily Bread. Make films about the people, they said; but The Crowd had already been made, so why remake it? I was, in a word, pessimistic. After Pierrot, I no longer feel this. Yes. One must film everything — talk about everything. Everything remains to be done. — Jean-Luc Godard in an interview about Pierrot le fou (1965)

After many years out of circulation, Jean-Luc Godard’s ninth feature is finally back, in a sparkling new 35-millimeter ‘Scope print, and the Film Center is celebrating with a week-long run. Looking at it again almost a quarter of a century after it was made, 20 years after its initial U.S. release, is a bit like visiting another planet; it’s an explosion of color, sound, music, passion, violence, and wit that illustrates what used to be regarded as cinema.… Read more »

Partisan [on CITIZEN LANGLOIS]

This was published in the September-October 1995 issue of Film Comment, as a sidebar to a much longer piece about Edgardo Cozarinsky. — J.R.

Partisan

by Jonathan Rosenbaum

As a member of the FIPRESCI jury at Berlin that gave this year’s Forum prize to Edgardo Cozarinsky’s 68-minute Citizen Langlois, I’d like to quote our citation: “For a brilliant essay revealing a multifaceted grasp of a major pioneer for whom cinema was the ultimate nationality.”

Indeed, at a time when much of what passes for film history is being regulated nationalistically, by state bureaucrats — a process observable in such projects as the British Film Institute’s “A Century of Cinema” series (which stepped off in Berlin with Edgar Reitz’s Night of the Directors), and in the blatantly pro-industry PBS miniseries calling itself American Cinema -– Cozarinsky’s film carries a distinct polemical charge. For Henri Langlois, the unruly and passionate founder/gatekeeper of the Cinémathèque Française spent his life railing against state bureaucracies, and most of his legacy would be unthinkable without this sustained resistance. His eclectic partisanship is more than adequately matched in a personal essay that is as much about exile as Cozarisnky’s One Man’s War and Sunset Boulevards.… Read more »

Ambiguous Evidence: Cozarinsky’s “Cinema Indirect”

From the September-October 1995 issue of Film Comment. I should stress that this essay is very much out of date once one starts to consider Cozarinsky’s prolific subsequent career as both a writer and a filmmaker — although I’ve anachronistically included a few recent book covers and film posters as illustrations, as well as a poster and two stills from his most commercially successful film to date, the 2005 Ronda Nocturna, known in English as Night Watch, in part to help make up for the impossibility of finding stills for some of the rarer films of his discussed here.

Let me also quote my Reader capsule review of Night Watch: “With a few exceptions, I prefer the literature of Edgardo Cozarinsky, an Argentinean based mainly in Paris, to his films, and his nonfiction in both realms to his fiction. But this poetic, atmospheric drama, shot in Buenos Aires, challenged my bias, mixing the natural and the supernatural, the cinematic and the literary, with such assurance that Cozarinsky no longer seems like a divided artist. Following a teenage street hustler through the night of All Saints’ Day, he turns a documentary about his hometown and its street life into a haunting piece of magical realism.Read more »

My Dozen Favorite Non-Region-1 Single-Disk DVDs

From DVD Beaver, posted in November 2008. A few of the links may be out of date by now.  — J.R.

The following selection is not only personal but very eclectic. It’s not exactly a list of my favorite films: I prefer Erich von Stroheim’s Foolish Wives (1922) and Greed (1924) to his Blind Husbands (1919), for instance, and if I had to take one Anthony Mann film along with me to a desert island, this would undoubtedly be The Naked Spur (1953) rather than his Man of the West (1958). Similarly, my favorite films by Nicholas Ray are probably Johnny Guitar (1954) and Bitter Victory (1957), even though Party Girl (1958), for all its flaws, is still a Ray film that I’d describe as sublime. But I’ve opted in these cases for the DVDs devoted to Stroheim, Mann, and Ray that I cherish the most, and the reasons why I cherish them are stated below.

A few other caveats:

(a) There are at least two other editions of Carl Dreyer’s Gertrud (1964) —- the U.S. one from Criterion and the English one from the British Film Institute—- that are top-notch, and they’re probably easier to come by in the Western hemisphere than the Australian edition on the Madman label that I cite.… Read more »

Declarations of Independents: Marry Royalty and Escape

From The Soho News (May 6, 1981). — J.R.

Impostors

Just a Gigolo

Black and White Like Day and Night

Film Still

“All bourgeois dreams end the same way. Marry royalty and escape.” — Chuckie (Charles Ludlam) in Impostors

April 20: It’s a pity that  Mark Rappaport: The TV Spinoff, which Channel 13 revives shortly after midnight, only a day before I attend a press show of Rappaport’s Impostors (playing at the Art through Tuesday), won’t be seen by everyone who’s encountering this filmmaker’s original, unsettling work for the first time. As a very witty précis of what watching (and financing and making) his movies can be like, I doubt it could be much improved upon. At the outset, when Rappaport is trying out different kinds of music with different movie stills — just a formal variation, really, of his subsequent tryouts with different costumes, backdrops, front-projections, plots, characters, clips, and raps about his movies — he’s already setting up the paradoxical parameters of his glamorously homemade cinema.

It’s a place where the writer-director and his resourceful actors and crew are all studiously working their asses off to furnish the audience with a kind of do-it-yourself melodrama kit, at once firmly overdetermined and subtly undermined — full of hysteria and intrigue, signifying everything.

Read more »

Ten Underappreciated John Ford Films

From DVD Beaver (posted December 2007). — J.R.

sheworeayellowribbon1

The first John Ford film I can remember seeing, probably encountered around the time I was in first grade, was archetypal: She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949). Apart from its uncommonly vibrant colors, this had just about everything a Ford movie was supposed to have: cavalry changes, drunken brawls, Monument Valley, and such standbys as John Wayne, Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr., Victor McLaglen, and Ford’s older brother Francis; only Maureen O’Hara and Ward Bond were missing.

Ford was one of the very first auteurs I was aware of, along with Cecil B. De Mille, Walt Disney, and Alfred Hitchcock, and what made him especially distinctive was that he was apparently less restricted than the others to a single genre. De Mille made spectaculars, Disney did cartoons, and Hitchcock specialized in thrillers, but a Ford movie could be a western, a war movie, or something else.

 

The ten relatively neglected Ford movies I’ve singled out here include a few that still can’t be found on DVD. I might well have selected some others if I’d seen them more recently (I’m currently looking forward to re-seeing the 1945 They Were Expendable, for instance), but I’d none the less argue that all of these are well worth hunting down.Read more »

Southern Sleaze

This piece comes from the November 19, 1993 issue of the Chicago Reader. —J.R.

A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Elia Kazan

Written by Tennessee Williams and Oscar Saul

With Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, and Karl Malden.

FLESH AND BONE

** (Worth seeing)

Directed and written by Steve Kloves

With Dennis Quaid, Meg Ryan, James Caan, and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Depending on whose figures you believe, the recently released “director’s cut” of A Streetcar Named Desire is either 4 percent or 8 percent longer than the version released in 1951. All the originally censored elements — lines of “racy” dialogue and shots of lustful expressions — have been restored, and the fact that this once-scandalous 126-minute movie is now accorded a PG rating indicates the progress we’ve made in some areas.

But if you think people are getting more of the movie now than they could 42 years ago, you’re mistaken. The running time is longer, but thanks to current movie-projection habits, close to 25 percent of every frame is missing at most screenings. The aspect ratio of the original movie — the relationship between the height and width of the frame — is 1:1.38, the standard ratio of all Hollywood movies in 1951.… Read more »